Farmers from Ayeyarwady Region have established an association to strengthen their land use rights and improve technical knowledge.
The Farmer Development Association is based on more than 50 village-level groups, ranging in size from five to more than 30 members, formed recently in Bogale, Kyaiklat and Mawlamyinegyun townships.
“Towards the end of February each of these groups selected one representative to be a member of the Farmer Development Association,” said Ko Tan Hlaing from Thatyetgaung village in Mawlamyingyun township.
Members say the association will provide a support network for farmers whose land use rights have been infringed. They also plan to hold capacity building workshops, inviting experts to provide technical assistance and teach updated farming methods.
“It’s time to establish an association that can protect the farmer’s life and promote their living standards. We are facing so many problems but there is no one to solve these problems except us,” said U Tin Oo of Kanyinkone village in Kyaitlat township.
A chief concern of farmers is losing their land to government and private sector projects
“When implementing a project – for example a road – we have to give up our land without compensation. Sometimes, we don’t even have a place to live anymore and have to ask friends to let us stay on their land,” said U Nyunt Swe from Patot village in Kyaiklat. “We are afraid to speak out because we are poor and lack knowledge. But we have chosen representatives [for the Farmer Development Association] who are brave enough to tell the truth and stand firmly on the side of farmers.”
Ma May Thet Khaing from Kyankhinnsu in Bogale township said she had lost farmland to a Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) project in early 2011. She finally received K150,000 compensation in January 2012.
“In our township we saw [MOGE] digging and taking out oil, and then they built a road to transport the oil. Five villages in the area were affected, losing about 100 acres. They compensated for crops but not land because technically we don’t own the land,” she said. “This project started in January 2011 but some farmers still haven’t got any compensation. One farmer lost all of his land and now he is in jail because he sold alcohol illegally to the [MOGE] workers.”
Organisers say they plan to expand the association from the existing three townships into other areas of the Ayeyarwady delta. In a recent letter to the president, senior government officials and members of parliament concerning the Farmland Bill, which is currently before parliament, the association also called on the government to formally allow farmer organisations.
“We expect this association will represent Ayeyarwady Region farmers, not just those of us in these three initial townships, so we put this point [the right to establish farmer organisations officially] in our request letter that we sent to the president. We must try to ensure our association is officially registered,” said U Ohn Myint, a member from Thanlite village in Bogale township.
“But we think our association cannot stand on its own, with only support from farmers. It needs the support and cooperation of NGOs and other specialists from different sectors,” said U San Maung from Chaungbayakyee in Bogale township.